February 09, 2023

ICYMI: At Hearing, Warren Urges Biden Administration to Take More Action to Protect Renters and Bring Down Housing Costs

“Two weeks ago, the White House announced a framework for enhanced renter protections. I was glad to see this action, and it’s an important first step…  (but) if the big corporate landlords see this blueprint as a cause for celebration, I think it’s safe to assume that there is a lot more the administration can do to meaningfully protect renters.”

Video of Hearing (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on the Biden administration to take more action to protect renters and bring down housing costs, following its announced framework for enhanced renter protections. 

Senator Warren called out the real estate lobby’s claim that they successfully weakened the administration’s housing framework and urged the Biden administration to ensure agencies are using all of their authorities to protect renters – including by making sure taxpayers are not subsidizing law-breaking corporate landlords. 

Transcript: The State of Housing 2023
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs 
Thursday, February 9, 2023

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you all for being here today. 

We know that housing is the largest expense for American families every month – and the problem has just gotten worse. New research shows that for the first time, the typical American renter is spending at least 30% of their income to cover the average rent. That makes them “rent burdened” by federal standards. 

Now a severe shortage of homes, paired with the growing presence of greedy corporate landlords, has made this problem worse, and put housing out of reach for many families. Fixing this problem at its root is going to require serious investments in building more housing, like those I call for in my American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, and I’m going to keep fighting for this.

But the problems that renters face go far beyond the supply problem. In too many places across the country, renters have few protections from needless evictions, excessive fees, and exorbitant rent hikes.

Dr. Herbert, you’re one of the nation’s leading researchers on the housing market, so let me ask you: there has been a growing movement of tenants across the country calling on the federal government to establish tenant protection standards. Why is it important that the federal government act to protect tenants?

Dr. Christopher Herbert, Managing Director, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies: Thank you, senator. I would say there is lessons we have learned from the previous pandemic about the importance of housing and having stable, secure housing, which led us to take steps nationally to have an eviction moratorium and the like. 

I think there is a lesson there that says this is an issue of national interest. It shouldn't be something that differs depending on what state you’re in. The other precedent I would point to is in the mortgage market where we have a number of federal statutes, RESPA, TILA, ECOA, that all relate to making sure that home buyers across the country, wherever you live, are treated fairly in the market. So I think there’s a very similar parallel between homeowners and renters.

Senator Warren: That is a really important point, and it’s part of the reason that I led a letter with Congressman Jamaal Bowman, joined by 47 of our colleagues, calling on President Biden to take executive action to protect tenants and bring rental costs down.

Two weeks ago, the White House announced a framework for enhanced renter protections and I was glad to see this action. It’s an important first step, but we need more.

In fact, the day the White House’s framework was announced, the real estate lobby celebrated, and they bragged that they had watered down the administration’s announcement. This is the very same industry that spent over $100 million on lobbying last year, including to fight against renter protections. 

The National Apartment Association, the organization that lobbies on behalf of corporate landlords, said, quote “What we can say with certainty about the Biden administration’s blueprint for advancing a ‘Renters Bill of Rights’ is that NAA’s advocacy helped avert an executive order.”

Now, Dr. Herbert, what does it tell you that the landlord lobby is celebrating an announcement that was purported to be about protecting tenants?   

Dr. Herbert: Well, senator, what I would say is that in a market where, as you said in your opening remarks, half of renters are cost-burdened, more than a quarter are severely burdened, we saw rents rising in high double digits, and on top of these, this pain. 

I guess I would just urge the apartment industry and the industry, housing industry, to take some ownership of the question of what do we do and how do we protect renters? Obviously, we want investors and owners of properties to make a reasonable return. But it can't come at the expense of people being forced out on the street.

Senator Warren: I think that’s exactly right. And look, if the big corporate landlords see this blueprint as a cause for celebration, then I think it is probably safe to assume that there is a lot more that the administration can do to meaningfully protect renters.

In fact, they can start by making sure that the federal government isn’t in the business of subsidizing law-breaking corporate landlords. A U.S. House Subcommittee investigation found that four corporate landlords evicted nearly 15,000 families during, during, the COVID eviction moratorium. Some of these same landlords receive federal financing to help them buy up housing on the cheap. I think that’s fundamentally wrong, and that anyone that’s breaking the law should not be permitted to participate in these federal programs.

So, I just want to say thank you to all of you for being here, thank you Dr. Herbert. The administration has an obligation to ensure that agencies are using all of their authorities to protect families' access to housing. Where the agencies lack the tools to forcefully protect renters, then I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass legislation to get them the tools that they need.

It's going to take an all of government approach to bring down housing costs for American families and it's time for us to get to work on this. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.